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Social Physics: How Social Networks Can Make Us Smarter Reissue Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0143126331
ISBN-10: 0143126334
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (January 27, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143126334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143126331
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Why did the author write this book? Was it to inform the public about the recent advances in sociology, made possible by our ability to constantly monitor people's behavior and use that "big data" to model social interaction in novel ways? Was the author specifically interested in informing the public about his research, because he wants us to share his excitement? Or is this book a simple self-serving attempt at self-promotion? This book appears to be mostly self-promotion, with some interesting research sprinkled throughout.

The book reads like a plea for a nobel prize, or maybe to drum up some venture capital support. Each chapter focuses on a specific research area of the author. In some cases, the author will also mention related research from other scientists. He then gives an example of how he was able to predict something new using his approach. That is OK, however it would be nice to learn about other research not originating from the author's lab. But in every case, the author then says something along the lines of, "This work was published in the Nature journal, Nature Communications", or something along those lines. This is off-putting and unnecessary - it just sounds like boasting. An example of the predictive power is more interesting to read than where it was published, and highlighting that is is a Nature-branded-journal just sounds shallow. He then follows it up with, my graduate student and I founded a company based on this work called "Millenia Informatics", or something along those lines. Uck. Neither of these last two points would be so off-putting if he ever made similar comments about other peoples successes, but he does not.

I was very annoyed by this format, and it made it difficult for me to engage with the book. However, the examples of how "big data" will change society for the better were mostly interesting, albeit mostly relegated to the author's own research.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was intrigued by the term "social physics," but ultimately agree with other reviewers: it's not clear why physics offers the best metaphor for explaining social interactions. I would agree with that reviewer: if you're going to use a metaphor, go with epidemiology.

But then the most frustrating part of the book is that there's no need for a new name. The authors address the points raised by other psychologists who study social influence. We are influenced by contact with our peers.

One of the more original concepts is the notion that we're influenced by observing behaviors of others, not just being with them. And being able to observe behavior is more important than the closeness we have to those being observed. That makes sense. As Pentland says, if we see lots of people eating donuts, it's easy to rationalize our own choices of bad food.

For the most part, the book just doesn't offer anything radically new. I chose 4 stars because the authors do introduce some new research techniques. Most likely the regular, non-ARC edition will be more helpful because readers will have access to charts and diagrams.

It would have been good to integrate the math into the main text and perhaps include some explanations for people who don't deal with equations every day. That step would make a contribution to differentiate the book from others on related topics.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The ideas behind this book seem good, but the author does not provide much hard evidence to back them up. Most evidence comes in the form of pointing out what esteemed journal published the data. The small area where I am knowledgeable contained inaccurate information. The book seems to be a paean to his isolated genius, and an advertisement for his many companies. I would have liked to see more use of the group wisdom that the book celebrates, and more real data.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is not much interesting social theory here, and the massive use of data is deployed for rather mundane ends. Of course idea-based enterprises should benefit from social science research. But the results are of limited interest beyond this use.

I was drawn to this book because I believe that better social theory demands better and more varied data for testing. But this book presents no social theory and tests nothing. It just is creative data mining. Boring to me.

I was continually assaulted by the author's self-promotion. This book is not for social scientists, but rather for businesses that might hire the author and his coworkers. Boring to me.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It appears a biographical journey of the author at MIT disguised in the apron of social physics, that hides the message of the narrative.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm very hesitant to endorse the title "social physics" as it seems to be nothing of the sort, but rather some initial heuristics for tracking meme spread and mutation. Epidemiology rather than physics is how I'm thinking about it. But nevermind, Alex Pentland is at MIT and did the work so he can coin the term.

There are a couple of short digression in which the mathematics is shown, but otherwise this is more of a business-friendly book than a technical book. Examples are of companies founded by Prof. Pentland or corporate research projects from his students. A quite readable book overall, and even if this isn't fully a "new science" (which seems to pop up in book titles fairly often...) then it's at least a way in which big data can be used to track ideas and their trends.
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